Monday, June 15, 2015

Things that Rock My World

Living far from home, in a third-world country, it is easy to think about the things that you miss or that aren't done the way you are accustomed to (the shopping cart situation, anyone??). However, this post is about some things here in Pagaguay that rock my world, and I wish were in the good old U.S. of A.


The beer here might not be good, but it sure is cold. When the most common beer size is a liter, it's important to keep it from getting warm. These things rock. I was soooo disappointed when I ordered beer in Chile and it wasn't served like this.

Shopping Baskets with Wheels
I mean, does it get any more convenient than this? I don't know about you, but I always get a basket, thinking "I just need a few things." Then stick a gallon of milk in it (back in my customary unit days when I could buy milk by the gallon) and have to haul it through the store. Who needs. that.

Tiny Cans of Tomato Sauce
Because sometimes all you need is 70 ml (2.3 ounces). Just right! No more partially used cans growing mold in your fridge.

But I saved the best for last. Maybe no one but teachers will appreciate this, but you guys will see, this is big:
Pre-sharpened Pencils

That's just how they are sold here. Is that cool or what? Now if you're not a teacher, you're wondering what the big deal is. But when faced with 28 kids on the first day of school, who all have their 36 new unsharpened pencils and not a blessed thing to write with, you get it. This is good since, incidentally, I haven't found an electric pencil sharpener that works here.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Guatape, Colombia

My last stop in Colombia was definitely my favorite. I went to the lakeside town of Guatape for a night, and ended up staying for about a week, until I had to catch my next flight south. It was only a couple hours from Medellin, but a world of difference! I'd spent too much time in big cities, and it was nice to be out in the country a bit more, with outdoor activities!

On my first day I did what everyone does in Guatape: climb the 740 steps up the nearby La Piedra. The view was worth it!

The next day found me hiking to a nearby waterfall with some fellow hostellers.

I then spent a lazy day exploring the town. All of the buildings have cute fresco-like paintings on the sides. Some advertise what's sold inside, and others are just cute.
The next day a few of us at the hostel hired a driver, and went to the neighboring town of San Rafael. Here, we went on another hike to a waterfall/swimming hole, had lunch in the town and met some cute kids, and walked along a river looking for monkeys (no monkeys) and swam some more. 

Finally, my last full day in Guatape I spent learning to do something new: I took a standup paddleboard lesson! I've always wanted to try it, and water sports were big in the town. It was pretty fun!

You can see the piedra in the background here!
 My next two days involved 3 bus rides, a hostel, 3 flights, a 12-hour layover, an other un-blog-worthy activity-but I ended up in southern Chile, ready for the next leg of this adventure!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Colombia: Medellin City Tour

Even though it's Colombia's 2nd biggest city, I had never heard of Medellin until I started my international job hunt. Due to the climate, it was actually my #1 choice for a job (but they didn't pick me!). Medellin used to have a terrible reputation during the 90's due to lots and lots of drug violence and the infamous Pablo Escobar. Now, though, it's a beautiful city and the local paisas are very proud of their city-and they LOVE tourists! On my first day here I took a free city tour, where most of the photos were taken. Many locals said hello, welcome to Medellin! The tour guide explained that Colombians are just so happy that they are now a popular tourist destination, after so many years of violence. As a free plug, the city tour (Real City Tours) was about 5 hours long and it was amazing!! Highly recommended. There is a lot of history in the city, and the locals are none to eager to paint their city in a negative light, so the tour was a good way to learn about it. 

There are sculptures, statues, parks, and art EVERYWHERE in this city!
In the background is the Parque Cisneros and Plaza de Las Luces -Plaza of Lights. It used to be a dangerous slum with lots of drugs, with but the city turned it into a lovely park. It's beautiful at night!
One of my few selfies this trip!

Used to be the National a shopping mall. 

Remember these guys from Bogota? Yep, more Botero sculptures!

A cathedral that was never finished...some problem with the architect or the money.

This Botero sculpture of a bird was destroyed by a bombing in 1995 that killed 20 people. The city hurried to remove it but Botero asked that it be kept as a reminder. He also fashioned a new one, below, which stands beside it. 

Parque San Antonio, where both of the above statues are, was completely deserted. In a country that loves to congregate outside in parks, it was very strange. I was told that paisas would rather not dwell on the history of violence in their city, so maybe that's why. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Colombia: Bogota

I will come right out and say it: I was prepared to dislike Bogota. I'd read that it is huge, dirty, dangerous, and rainy. The first was true-Bogota is enormous! And certainly the last is normally true, but I had great weather. However, it turned out that I really liked Bogota. This had a lot to do with the fact that I stayed with a good friend I worked with last year, and she and her husband showed me around the city. I think finding my way around otherwise would have been overwhelming! With 2-4 of us going to many sites, taking a taxi was quite affordable so I didn't have much experience with public transit. We saw many different highlights:

Plaza de Bolivar
What would any South American city be without its huge plaza, after all?

Paloquemao Market- a popular, huge market selling everything. Fruits, vegetables, housewares, meat (including whole dead animals!), flowers, and more. It was very colorful and fun to look at the foreign fruits they sell.

Parque Bolivar: a huge park in the city, with lakes, many playgrounds, paths to walk and bike on, soccer fields, etc. 

 Usaquen is a cute part of town with nice parks and restaurants. We came here specifically so I could try ajiaco soup, a Colombian specialty. It was DELICIOUS!! I love how it comes with all the toppings and you assemble it yourself.

Cerro de Monserrate
This is a nice place to visit in the Christmas season because of all the lights! However it was VERY crowded. We had to wait in line to take the funicular up for about 2 hours. Once we got up there, it was nice to walk around, see the lights, get a view of the city, and drink some amazing hot chocolate!

Museo Botero-Fernando Botero is a famous Colombian artist and his sculptures and paintings are easy to identify by their skewed proportions. (Both pictures below are from the museum's website)

As you can see, I managed to see quite a big of Bogota in my limited time there. We also managed to have an amazing Christmas dinner with my friend and the other expats she works with, complete with turkey and all the fixins! Apparently I was too busy eating to take any pictures, oops. Still to come: Bogota's graffiti tour!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Colombia: Playa Blanca

Although Colombia is famous for its beaches, the beaches right around Cartagena are nothing special. I had heard that Playa Blanca was a great day trip or getaway, though so Beau and I went to check it out. After waiting a million hours in the blazing sun we were off on a boat. Some people did a longer boat tour to many places, but we got off at Playa Blanca right away instead.

Getting a place to stay was no problem. You can just walk along the beach asking for prices and to see the accommodations. After checking out a few, we picked this little hut. Here's the view.

The main activities here are: sitting/lying/reading on the beach, walking along the beach, getting fancy drinks on the beach, and eating and sleeping. There were people going on Jet-ski rides and riding on inflatable things behind boats, and our little hut guy would have loaned us a kayak as well. That's pretty much it! We had a great time, but were pretty glad we only opted to stay one night instead of two.

This guy has a wheelbarrow of all you need for a fancy beachy drink, right out of a coconut!

The sunset was fantastic.

 The next day we had a (wild) boat ride back into Cartagena. Here's a view of the city skyline from the wate.r

Insider Tips:
  • No need to book lodging ahead. DO look at each place, as they can vary a bit. You can stay in a cabana, camp, or sleep in a hammock.
  • Might as well buy your boat ride out a day in advance. The hotel guys can usually arrange your boat back, but ours didn't show up and he basically sent us to join another boat. Luckily it all worked out in the end.
  • I'd be hard pressed to spend more than 24 hours here, but to each his own! Bring more than one book!